Showing posts with label The Phenoms of Minnesota Twins Past. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Phenoms of Minnesota Twins Past. Show all posts

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Phenoms of Minnesota Twins Past: Part IV-Carlos Gomez

HE hope I dreamed of was a dream,   Was but a dream; 
and now I wake
Exceeding comfortless, and worn, and old,
For a dream's sake.
- Christina Rossetti, "Mirage," 1879

This past Friday night, Minnesota Twins centerfielder Joe Benson made a miraculous catch off the bat of David Ortiz at the Red Sox new spring training home, Jet Blue Park in Ft. Meyers, FL. The sprinting, over-the-shoulder grab was mindful of the famous play Willie Mays made in the 1954 World series. 

For this fan, it was notable in two other ways:
it was made in the deep, centerfield "triangle" area (see photo), which is a near duplicate of Boston's Fenway Park-famous for Twins fans as it was there that Torii Hunter broke his ankle in the same region (A. Gleeman photo) in a regular season game in 2005, thus ending the Twins post-season hopes.

Also, Benson's grab is similar to those made by another Twin player of recent vintage, possessing a comparable skillset: Carlos Gomez. Benson at times makes you believe he could cover the entire outfield by himself with his speed and arm strength. Like Gomez. The flip side: Benson is magnetically drawn to striking out like the murderous Jason was to girls in college sorority houses. Over his minor league career to date, he's whiffed an average of once every four trips to the plate (565 k's in 2,373 plate appearances (24%). Again, very like Gomez....and we hope against hope that his fate, at age 24, doesn't become another mirage, a la Mr. Carlos "Go-Go" Gomez.

2008 Upper Deck card: behold,
bunting technique perfection

The Twins famous trade of Johan Santana on Feb. 2, 2008 netted them Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, Deolis Guerra, and Phillip Humber. The Twins had been put in the unenviable position of paying a huge hunk of their payroll to Santana, who was destined for free agency after 2008-unless Minnesota unloaded him for the best possible offer. After multiple rumors of trade packages, smokescreens and bald-faced lies (probably) involving the Red Sox and Yankees, the only team left standing was the Mets. Brand, spankin' new Twins GM Billy Smith lost the staring match with the Mets. Now, five years on, it seems fair to judge that trade objectively.

Blogger Parker Hageman put it well recently when he compared it to Jack trading the cash cow for the proverbial handful of beans. Put another way, the Twins traded their precious ace without getting the best prospect in the Mets system (at that time, OF Fernando Martinez) or a player from their 40-man roster (Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes or David Wright, though none from that group were included in the public discussion). The best that could be said of this collection of sprouts was that "they had potential," But in March of 2008, it appeared the Twins had acquired a budding stud in center fielder Gomez. His arrival in Minnesota couldn't have been more opportune, as he was viewed as an obvious replacement for the popular Hunter*, who had departed for Anaheim. His spring training that year showed flashes of brilliance, along with eccentric inconsistency.

*Along with Denard Span, who lost the centerfield battle in spring training...
Everything's relative. Since Leo Cardenas 

was known to lock his bats in a closet 

for not performing well, this isn't all
that odd to me... 

Spring Training-2008
Jim Souhan  (Minneapolis Star-Trib.) recorded this take on Carlos in a March 30, 2008 column.
"Ask a Twin about Gomez this spring, and the response would be a head shake and a giggle. When Justin Morneau stopped laughing, he said: "He is one of a kind. In so many ways. He can absolutely fly. He's the kind of athlete who comes along very rarely, with that speed and also having power.
"I don't think he quite knows how to use his power yet. He thinks he has to swing harder to hit it farther. Hopefully, he'll figure it out. His arm from the outfield is as good as I've ever seen, although he needs to be more accurate.
"He's a little out of control. He's 1,000 miles an hour. But when he comes to the plate, or gets on base, everybody watches."
Perhaps this passage from that same Souhan piece tells you everything you need to know about Carlos, both then and now:
"The other day in spring camp, Gomez was standing by the batting cage, waiting to hit, when someone lined a shot off the pitching screen. The ball shot back over the cage toward the backstop. Gomez took off on a dead sprint, executed a Willie Mays basket catch and held up the ball like a trophy. It was stunning and rather silly. No other player would think of doing that, and few could pull it off."
In 2008, at age 22, this is what the St. Bernard-like Gomez did in center field for the Twins:

Provided by Baseball-Reference.comView Original TableGenerated 3/18/2012.

In summary, here's how he stacked up to the other CF's in the American League:
  • First in putouts  (54 more than Grady Sizemore, in same number of games)
  • First in range factor (RF/9) 3.15, with next closest: Rajai Davis, 2.92 
  • First in games played as a center fielder, 151 (tied with Sizemore) 
  • AND...first in errors as a center fielder, 8, tying with Delmon Young among outfielders
We're it not for his strong, yet inaccurate arm, Gomez could have been a hands-down Gold Glove winner, an obvious star-in-the-making. He certainly didn't lack charm for the role:

A fine, 4 for 5 night at the plate made this a memorable evening during the 2008 season. So, you see, it wasn't just his eccentricities, and fear of ghosts (see June, '08 Patrick Reusse column) that drew people to him. In small doses, he made you believe. Sorry to dredge up Telly Hughes, the King of the Cliches, for you Twins fans! 

July 26, 2009: just another day at the office for Carlos!

WARNING: for some reason, MLB videos seem to run in a loop - will need to pause the two here!

July 27, 2009 outfield injury - watch Gomez' pinwheeling, dazed, fall at the :57 mark. Carlos had mishaps, i.e, running into the centerfield wall, which gave the impression he'd been shot by a sniper. To wit: there's a vaguely Michael Richards "Kramer" aspect about this...

It has long been expressed that Gomez, if he were to concentrate on better plate coverage, he could emerge as a middle of the order hitter ("Lay off those outside pitches, ya big dummy!"). Again, it has never been a question of physical talent with him, blessed by The Baseball Gods with insane gobs of natural ability. The tantalizing thought of what he could be if he were to reign in his undisciplined nature, and make the necessary physical adjustments has vexed 3 organizations by now. Like the aforementioned Mr. Benson, he's a wind turbine, striking out 377 times in 1,678 lifetime Major League PA's - or, 22% of the time. The Twins, exasperated by Gomez' flailing, traded him to Milwaukee on Nov. 6, 2009 for shortstop J.J. Hardy (a subject I will tackle once I can gain the courage to do so).

Carlos Gomez scores winning run, Game 163, Oct. 6, 2009.
The win propelled the Twins to the ALDS against New York.
(AP Photo)
Jack Moore in his article "Should Carlos Gomez Stand Closer To The Plate?" at the Disciples of Uecker" blog addresses a fine tuning for 2012 that could be of help. Jack's opinion as a Brewers fan and baseball mind should be given credence.  At this point in his career, however, I would be hard pressed to see Carlos changing his approach with any kind of diligence.

He has the same problem Bobby Bonds (Sr.) had, and far worse: loads of offensive potential that is offset by poor pitch selection, and striking out way too much - thus negating his otherwise stellar contributions. He is a liability, therefore, to his team. Jonathan Ede piece in Media Milwaukee on March 18, 2012, concludes it is time for the Brewers to cut the cord with Carlos. I must say, he's persuasive, especially in light of the fact his comments mirror precisely the things said about the same player four springs ago. Like a lot of fans, I was a fan of his then, and I still am, with my ardent wish being he will one day turn the corner. How could you not root for a guy who left winter ball to be at the bedside of his son, afflicted with meningitis?

But then, most of us know what Burgess Meredith had to say about wishing...but I can still dream.

As our old broadcasting friend Herb Carneal closed his postgame shows:
"So long, everybody!" - TT

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Phenoms of Minnesota Spring Trainings Past: Part IV

John Castino 1979:
Seasons of Passion & Fire, Albeit Brief

In another lifetime, I see John Castino as one of those Pony Express riders - bringing in the mail through a hail of arrows from hostile Indian batteries, enduring the wrenching heat of the Old West. He was the guy that teammates wanted on their side, whom fans loved for his working class grit.
"Go ahead, try to spika me,
 I messupa your face." ---
I know.  I know. 
Cliche I-tai...Italian never spoken
in the Castino home in Evanston.

The story of how the Twins became entwined with the skinny kid from Illinois begins with a game he played against them before the Twins ever heard his name ( enjoy superb John Swol interview at his site, the excellent Twins Trivia ). In what had become a rite of spring, Castino's college team, the Rollins Tars, played the Major League Twins in their annual spring game on March 6, 1974. Rollins is located near Winter Park, Florida, near the Twins former spring training home of Tinker Field, in Orlando.

Lost to me now is the final score of that contest, and exactly who pitched and played for the Twins.  Amateur players are usually giddy just to make contact with professional pitching. They almost always end in blowouts for the big boys.

Castino went 2 for 4, with two singles (see back, 1980 Topps).

I remember listening in horror to that spring game broadcast back to the Twin Cities.  Our ace Blyleven (reasonably sure it was Bert!) giving up hits to some snot kid just out of high school? How could this happen? What's this "Castino" thing? An exotic Italian ice cream?! A extra from "The Godfather?" cast?  Dumbstruck.  What will the pros do to our hurlers this year?

My pre-teen sense of  pride in the Twins was severely rattled.  It was as if someone had told my girl she's ugly at the 6th Grade rollerskating party, then punched me in the stomach as a parting shot.

John Castino, 1980 Topps Rookie card

The Twins, knowing a gem had dropped into their lap, began scouting John. Castino was taken in the third round of the MLB 1976 amateur draft with the10th pick. Drafted just ahead of him with the 9th pick was future Twin Dan Schatzeder. Allan Trammel went to the Tigers in Round Two.  Round One saw future Twin Ken Landreaux picked by the Angels, future Twin-Killer  Pat Tabler to the Yankees, and Mike Scioscia go to the Dodgers as a catcher. Scioscia would also go on to manage the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim past the Twins in the 2002 American League Championship Series.  A solid draft, at that.

John had to beat out the incumbent Mike Cubbage for third base in '79.  Cubbage had been there since he'd come over in the 1976 Bert Blyleven trade to Texas, and Mauch usually showed preference towards the veterans.  That figures.  Castino was still a thin guy lacking man muscles, appearing to be a choir boy barely able to shoulder a Louisville Slugger.  Appearances deceive.

Manager Mauch chose a formulaic platoon for his third sackers, where Cubbage batted against righties, Castino against lefties. It took until the middle of May for Castino to begin receiving the majority of starts at third (see day by day game stats). Cubby was a solid major leaguer, but the disparity in their talent was obvious. Castino batted over .300 most of that year, finishing at .285, showing an obvious love for hitting triples (8) in only 398 at bats.  He had excellent range, getting to so many balls that he was nearly beyond peer in the league (see Baseball Ref link with advanced fielding metrics-take the time to peruse, esp. the double play section right of chart  - fascinating! Castino was right there with George Brett, Buddy Bell, defensive stalwarts).

The defensive tactician side of Mauch had to like that. Nice ball-hawkin' and then some "bling" to bolster that genius title - for the Rookie of the Year Award, the writers flinched: it was a draw between his new third baseman and Alfredo Griffin of the Toronto Blue Jays. That after John was told he was a longshot to make the team out of spring training.

Beyond the numbers, Castino had an innate pluck and sense of a leader to stand up to others in the baseball ranks, including the manager AND the Twins team owner...

When Calvin Griffith had blasted the team (see Castino article) for poor play during the 1982 season in the media, Castino shot back. "I'm not in charge of assembling the team.  You'll have to ask Mr. Griffith about that." Calvin then issued this statement:
Griffith, Mid 1960's
If Castino is a man, he will come see me face to face, if not, he’s a mouse.”
Castino takes it from there:
"Well, Calvin knew I’d come see him. When I got to his office he said, “Castino, you’re the most overrated third baseman in the American League.” I said, “Then trade me Calvin.” He replied, “I can’t trade you, you’re the best third baseman in the American League.” I just walked away and couldn’t figure out a way to debate his logic (or lack thereof). Both 100 percent true stories. He was an interesting character. Anyway, it gives some insight to Calvin’s boldness and lack of tact. Having said that, however, I liked the man and respected him. You always knew where you stood with him."(Seam heads link).

Relations gone awry at Tiger stadium: Fri, May 14, 1982.
Tiger Lance Parrish is man-handling a Twin, lower left.
On right, #22 Randy Johnson and #19 John Pacella of the
Twins are chanting peaceful James Taylor lyrics to pacify the
crazed jock-mob. Pacella had just pitched his first game
for the Twins the day before, coming over from New York 
in the Wynegar / Erickson trade.

 There was another on-field incident in 1982 that deserves mention in the Castino saga. The Twins rivalry with the Detroit Tigers had flowered into palpable animosity over the years, probably beginning in earnest with the arrival of Manager Sparky Anderson in the late 1970's.  The rancor between the two teams continued all the way up to the 1987 League Championship Series showdown.

Then, the May, 1982 brawl errupted, culminating in Detroit pitcher Dave Rozema attempting to karate kick Castino (see Rachel Blount, Minneapolis Star Trib.). The whole, unsavory display of fisticuffs first began with an errant pitch from our favorite reliever and whipping boy, Ron Davis.

See the video for Sparky's account.  Lousy quality, but still fascinating!

Anybody know if Charles Manson had a bobblehead Day yet?

Still sad to me is how John's back betrayed him, prematurely ending his career. A succession of injuries and spinal fusion operations forced him to call it quits in early May, 1984.  What was most frustrating for me was the fact that right up to the very last day, he was improving in all phases of the game: he was fielding at an all-star clip, and fittingly reached base 4 times in 5 plate appearances in his finale (three hits plus a walk) against the Angels on May 7, 1984. And then he decided the pain was just too much,  packed his gear, and left. An unfinished college education awaited his attention, and a career as wealth enhancement advisor beyond that.

Taking his place on the Twins roster the next day in Anaheim was a young outfielder with only two years of minor league experience: Kirby Puckett. His line?  Reached base...4 times in 5 at bats (4 singles).

John prospered, but definitely watched with wistfulness and grace 3 seasons later when the Twins won it all ( see video no. 2 at link of him in retirement, summer, 1986).


"When I was 24, and in the majors, I felt I was
invincible. I thought I could play until I was 45."
 Factoid: Castino graduated from New Trier (Ill.) High. That school also numbers Liz Phair, Donald Rumsfeld, and Rainn Wilson ("The Office") among its graduates.

I'm not sure you could get a more assymetrical collection than this to gather at an all-school reunion.

Quotes about John Castino:

*Bruce H. (Castino fan), at Baseball Ref said:
"What a pleasure it was, to watch John Castino play the hot corner. He was as good at third, as anyone I ever saw at the Met."

*Kent Hrbek (Twins first baseman) from "The Twins At The Met: "I was always a fan of Johnny Castino.  I admired him and the way he played, the hard-nosed player he was until he hurt his back.  He was the third baseman when I came to the Twins.  During my rookie season he was the guy I chatted with the most and looked up to the most."

As good ol' Herb used to say: "...and the count rides along." - TT

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Phenoms of Minnesota Twins Springs Past: Part I

Luke Hughes.  Kyle Gibson.  Scott Diamond. Just a few new names we Twins fans have heard bandied about this spring of 2011. This post and the ones to follow highlight some past Twins who either performed admirably in spring training, or caught on with the club early in the season.

Some "kicked up the dust," and flourished...while some wilted like daisies in the hot summer sun, from the pressures of big league ball.

Jimmie Hall, 1963: Southern Fried Slugger 
He was the fleet center fielder with a sweet, whiplash swing from the left side. He was the first, real "tools" player (speed, power) to come up in the Twins' system in the early 1960's. He was sort of a Mickey Mantle character, Minnesota version, with his skill set and southern drawl.

1964 Topps Card
Jimmie Hall was 25 when he impressed the Twins in the '63 camp (see "3 New Faces For The Twins" - Albert Lea Trib. April 1, 1963).  He'd been in the minors for parts of 7 seasons, and had finished his stint in the reserves in '62. Lenny Green had been the veteran in center field for the club, and knew by the middle of June that the fleet Hall would be taking his spot. Check out The Sporting News feature pg. 1 and page 2 on him from July 27, 1963. He was just a country kid, really, from Mount Holly, SC. You can imagine it was a kind of a place with Sheriffs like Andy Taylor and greasy spoon restaurants, a place where you couldn't swing a Louisville Slugger without hitting an Aunt Bee or drunk Otis Campbell character. He disliked big cities, a la, Hibbing, Minnesota native Roger Maris. That he played at Metropolitan Stadium must have been O.K. with him, as it was basically located in what had been a cornfield.

When Green went down with an injury in June, Hall was inserted into the starting lineup, and began knocking the cover off the ball. He hit .322 that month with 5 jacks, then only .233 but 7 HR's in July, caught fire with 13 bombs, 27 RBI and .333 in August, and finished off the year in September with another 6 homers. Not bad stuff -31 homers, .273 batting average, with 77 ribbies, .354 OBP & slugged .556.

Here's a wonderful clip of Jimmie batting against Don Drysdale in the 1965 World Series:

While he had three more fine seasons with Minnesota, it was always claimed that his May, 1964 beaning (link: Mar. 23, 1967 Milwaukee Sentinel) made him tentative against lefty throwers.   Actually, his line against them wasn't impressive previously, having only hit 1 homer pre-injury, and four lifetime (see Jason Kubel (10, through 2010) and Jacque Jones (21) lifetime for comparison). Just as crucial, perhaps, was his collision with Bob Allison that made him less aggressive going back to the wall for deep drives. He called it a career in 1970 with the Braves.

Sergio Ferrer, 1974: not ready for primetime...
Custom Made 1974 Ferrer Topps
Twins Cards Autographs section
Sergio Ferrer was basically the clubhouse janitor who masqueraded his way onto the major league stage. That is to say, he was a sham of a major league player for most of his time in the show. He was Chico Esquala, the fictional, comedic, Latin middle infielder popularized by Garret Morris on Saturday Night Live, before anybody had ever heard the name. He impressed the Twins brass during spring training competition, where his AA background looked to be more than adequate against the usual collection of green prospects and rusty veterans.

The Twins had selected him as a Rule 5 draftee on Dec. 3, 1973, from the Dodgers farm system.  Essentially, Calvin Griffith and company had grown dissatisfied with incumbent shortstop Danny Thompson. Thompson had produced a .225/.259/.282 line (batting, on base, slugging) line in '73, and it had to give the Twins pause, especially with his leukemia woes factored in. The Twins, with Ferrar's minor league stat sheet in front of them, saw this: a .297 BA, and a .397 OBP, with 44 steals in two seasons. I remember hearing the spring training games carried by WCCO radio out of Minneapolis, feeling thrilled whenever the little Puerto Rican reached base, anticipating he'd use his speed to swipe another bag.  And when he started the season as Manager Frank Quilici's lead off man, he batted .281 in 20 games, showing that speed alright...

Problem was, the Twins had neglected to scan the defensive side of his rap sheet: 70 errors in two seasons previous in A and AA ball.  Sure enough, when he had to field the ball, Ferrer didn't disappoint: at the start of '74, he committed 9 errors in 62 chances, a span of 125 innings. That's an .855 fielding percentage in 20 games (14 where he was the starter), while the league shortstops average was .969. Things had not "been berry, berry good..."

That's just plain loco, amigo!

By May 12, the "Sergio Ferrer Era" was mercifully over, as it marked the last time that year he would start at shortstop for the Twins. By the end of May, he was at AAA Tacoma, probably sent over in a spare bat bag to save cheap Calvin Griffith some air fare. There, he continued his pattern of savage butchery (a mere 29 errors in 79 games, .924 Fld%). The Twins tried their luck afterward with a revolving door of infield candidates, including Thompson, Luis Gomez, Jerry Terrell and Eric Soderholm. Dick Nixon could only wish he was given as quiet a burial in that stormy summer of '74. Sergio resurfaced with the hapless, late '70's New York Mets, where he found a home as Ed Kranepool's designated pinch runner.

Eric Milton, 1998: Centerpiece of Yankee trade for Chuck whats-his-name?
In the six seasons since the 1991 Championship, 2B Chuck Knoblauch had gone from an image of being the finest all-American overachiever who ever had his cheeks pinched by adoring grandmothers, to being a trade-demanding megalomaniac.  The Twins found suckers takers for his services in the New York Yankees [cue evil dictator laugh here].

The ransom they had to pay for his services turned into the most celebrated trade and transaction for the Twins in the decade of the 1990's: Brian Buchanan, Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton, Danny Mota and $3M came Minnesota's way on Feb. 6, 1998.

1999 Topps Rookie card
It was with no small joy for Twins fans that Milton was given a spot on the roster after his first spring fling with the Twins - he had discernible talent, which gave the fan base instant hope- a commodity that had become non-existent in a relatively short span of time. Pitchers like Rich Robertson, Scott Klingenbeck, and players like Scott Stahoviak and David McCarty had come to symbolize the decay and general malaise of a franchise (or like that same, inebriated Otis stumbling upon and flipping off the happy birthday kids party with his coarseness and rude flatulence). They were part of the slow building steam of resurgence for the Twins of the early 2000's that would blow the lid off the sham and lie that was contraction between the seasons of 2001 and 2002.

With that in mind, it's probably not too much of an exaggeration to claim Milton and his cohorts, specifically Guzman, were part of the most important trade in franchise history. The franchise's fate may have tipped another way if not for that. Of course, we'll never know.  Milton's 15-25 won-loss record over his first two seasons then became secondary, what with the legitimacy and talent (like the young Frank Viola) he brought to the pitching staff. A point of contention: Milton's Sept.11, 1999 no-hitter against the Anaheim Angels is downgraded for the low grade lineup he faced while Johnny Vander Meer's 1938 no-hitter (the second of two consecutive gems) against a very undistinguished Brooklyn Dodger lineup is given no such scrutiny or back-handed praise. With his career seemingly over at this point we owe him - and the Knobber - a salute in gratitude (uh, not that salute - the classy, respectful one).

We'll return later with more Twins phenoms.
Until then, as Herb used to say: "...and the count rides along."